Betsy’s Story

 Posted by Peter Martin at 3:28 am  Kenya
Aug 292013

This journal entry carries more hope than my previous one and it focuses around the power of a common question that we often take for granted. Betsy (name changed for privacy) is a Kenyan woman in her mid-twenties that is HIV+, has one child, and lives in a slum not far from where I am living. She was infected by her first husband and fortunately her current husband is HIV-.  Only a few people in her community know of her status, among them her husband and a friend.  The reason for the lack of people knowing her status and the resulting lack of support is the stigmatization that surrounds the HIV/AIDS community.

Myself and a a few coworkers were invited to her home by a friend of hers that lives in the same slum. As were sitting in her home and trying to get to know her, she was acting very shy and it was very clear that she is living alone with this disease. Our main goal in visiting her was to offer our support and assure her that she is not alone and that there are resources available to her. Amidst her shyness and hesitancy towards communicating with us, I looked in her eyes asked her the simple question of, “How are you feeling?”.  She didn’t respond. I then persisted and rephrased the question to, “What is the first emotion you feel when you wake up in the morning?”.  She then started crying and simply said, “There is a pain in my heart.” From this simple question there was a breakthrough with Betsy. I couldn’t help but wonder if I was the first person to sincerely ask her that since the time she was diagnosed with HIV. We reassured her that she is not alone and that there are other women in the community that have experienced the same pain but through the support of others it has lessened or even disappeared completely.

The good news for Betsy is that she has been receiving treatment for HIV for a couple years now, has a high CD4 count (A high CD4 count means the immune system has yet to be significantly compromised), and is far from being diagnosed with AIDS. She will start going to a woman’s support group at Living Positive Mlolongo every Friday afternoon.  The bottom line is that she has a future ahead of her and can potentially live a long life. Her main issue at the moment is her emotional health and depression, though after asking that simple question, “How are you feeling?”, she was able to express her pain and hopefully that is where the healing begins.


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